Dwight Hardy of the St. John's Red Storm celebrates a...

Dwight Hardy of the St. John's Red Storm celebrates a basket against the Georgetown Hoyas, Monday. (Jan. 3, 2011) Credit: Jim McIsaac

St. John's stirred the embers of its fiery mid-1980s Georgetown rivalry with a hard-fought 61-58 victory at Madison Square Garden last night, closing what had become a widening gap in the series' consequence on the national basketball stage.

Through a mad final 10 minutes, with momentum tacking this way and that and the Garden crowd of 8,897 noisily involved, St. John's (10-3) lifted its Big East record to 3-0 against Georgetown (12-3, 1-2), which had come to New York ranked 13th in the country.

From a 45-45 tie, the lead changed eight times down the stretch - and four times in the last 1:24 - before senior forward Justin Brownlee's follow of Dwight Hardy's missed layup, with 10.2 seconds remaining, gave St. John's the lead for good at 59-58.

Hardy, the senior guard from the Bronx, had scored on a reverse layup with 42.4 seconds left, but Georgetown answered on junior Jason Clark's two free throws. Hardy made a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds left to finalize the victory.

"This is what we live for," Hardy said. "You just have to compete and fight, and this shows we are a tough team."

Through none of last night's players were born when such basketball giants as Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing stalked the Garden floor in repeated by-gone wrangles between St. John's and Georgetown for the nation's top ranking a quarter century ago, last night's battle had a fervor familiar to the two schools' older alumni.

Among the pyrotechnics were a flying dunk by St. John's senior Justin Burrell of a D.J. Kennedy alley-oop pass that appeared headed for Eighth Avenue, and Kennedy's steal and coast-to-coast break for a layup just before the half, when St. John's built its largest lead of the night, 32-23.

"I'm just really pleased and proud of our players' performance, in terms of finding a way to getting a 'W,' " said Steve Lavin, who was experiencing his first Big East game at the Garden as head coach. "It was kind of an uneven game, in terms of lacking fluidity or rhythm. But so often a game at this level, with well-prepared teams, is going to come down to finding a way, to willpower. So I once again commend our seniors."

Hardy finished with 20 points - 10 of those coming on a perfect night at the free-throw line - and Brownlee added 15 and seven rebounds. St. John's was outrebounded 35-24 and outshot 44 percent to 42, but took better care of the ball, committing only four turnovers to Georgetown's 14.

Georgetown, paced by Hollis Thompson's 16 points, held a small, fluctuating lead most of the first half, but then went eight minutes without a field goal. During the frantic final minutes, Georgetown's Chris Wright badly missed three straight three-point attempts.

"Coming down the stretch, we've got to get a stop, we've got to get a rebound," said Georgetown's coach. That would be John Thompson III, whose father lived through the original madness.

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